The Montage published a shortened version of this article on February 8, 2012.
Practices are in full swing for the softball team as they prepare for their inaugural season as the STLCC Archers.
During the process of consolidating athletic teams last year all across STLCC, it was decided that Meramec would host the softball team. Along with becoming accustomed to new uniforms, new teammates and a new head coach’s voice, the 2012 STLCC Archers look to bring their talents together.
“I didn’t think [consolidating the teams] was a bad idea, because by combining all the teams, you will be taking the best players out of each school to create better teams for all sports,” freshman outfielder Kayla Becktol said.
However, not all of the players were as pleased as Becktol with the athletic department’s decision. In fact, just seven of the 21 freshmen from last year’s individual teams returned to play under the new format, including pitcher Dani Whitehead.
Whitehead, who played for the Meramec Magic last season, garnered first team all-region honors after racking up 50 strikeouts. She briefly transferred last fall.
“I wasn’t very happy when I first found out [about the consolidation] because most of my team was leaving due to the coaching change,” Whitehead said. “I didn’t want to play without them, so I left to play for Kentucky Wesleyan College, an NCAA D-II school. I missed home, though, so I decided to come home and try Meramec again. I couldn’t stand not playing, so I gave it a shot and I really enjoy it!”
The merger of the STLCC programs also meant that Whitehead and most of the other sophomores would be playing for a coach and with players they had competed against last season. While coach Wayne Bryan admitted there was a probably a brief adjustment period for his players, he said that sort of change is simply a part of life.
“Initially, I think there was probably some confusion for the students,” Bryan said. “Anyone who plays a team sport has to make a sacrifice. It’s not always about themselves. So, even the transition of moving to a different campus, having a new head coach, that’s all part of change and that’s part of life.”
Bryan, who coached the women’s softball team at STLCC-Florissant Valley for 11 seasons, earned Region XVI Coach of the Year honors in 2008 after his team captured the 2008 Region XVI championship, but has since posted a record of just 19-96 due in large part to a lack of recruits.
“In year’s past, unfortunately for me, my teams haven’t been very successful, Bryan said. “Softball’s not very prevalent [in the North County-area] and…anyone that does play softball tends to travel south. So, it made it very challenging for me to recruit the type of athletes to have a successful program.”
The Archers head coach believes his group of new recruits will benefit from playing with the small group of returning sophomores, but understands experience will be the key to success.
“Our freshmen, in general, are pretty strong. Adding to that, the sophomores that we have returning are also pretty strong, but there’s still a lot to be said,” Bryan said. “As freshmen coming in, they’re still wet behind the ears and they still have some learning and growing to do. So, once we start competing, it’ll come out.”
While damp weather has prevented the team from holding regular outdoor practices, freshman recruit Tory Ellis has already started to make an impression on the Bryan and the Archers coaching staff.
“Based on what we have right now, we do have a couple student-athletes, freshmen in particular, who could have an impact,” Bryan said. “One would be Tory Ellis. She’s a freshman second baseman [with] a real good bat. [She] needs some work defensively, but shows great promise.”
As a senior at Fox High School, Ellis batted .429 with three home runs and 24 RBI. She also struck out just twice in 92 plate appearances and was named as one of the top prospects in the St. Louis-area by Get in the Game St. Louis.
Ellis headlines a freshman class that Bryan believes should at least help the Archers reach the .500 mark.
“I’m very excited about the upcoming season,” Bryan said. “I think we definitely have the capability of being a .500 squad. If not possibly winning the conference and winning our region and taking a shot at nationals, that’s our hope, that’s the plan. If we continue to work hard, I think we can accomplish that.”
The Archers open their season on March 2 against the Waubonsee Chiefs. First pitch from the Meramec campus is scheduled for 1 p.m.